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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 09 10 I hope will assist in taking away the stigma of mental health difficulties, and reassure any dharma practitioners who find taking psychiatric medication help- ful in dealing with their symptoms. That said, I was left wondering whether the goal of psychological/ psychiatric help—mental health, or the relief of disabling symptoms—had been conflated with the goal of the Buddhist path, enlightenment. The authors refer to “the many sources of suffering” that can be addressed by their proposed “multi- pronged approach.” To be sure, we can all come up with a long list of things in this world that cause us pain. However, when the Buddha taught the cause of suffering he didn’t refer to maternal deprivation, Oedipal conflict, social isolation, childhood abuse, genetic vulnerability to stress, an imbalance of brain chemicals, or any of the other putative causes of mental suffering pro- posed by Western psychology. He said, “The cause of suffering is ego-delusion,” which is a far more radical assertion (in fact, it’s just about as radical as it gets). The authors rather unfairly char- acterize classical accounts of spiritual endeavors as being too romantic and simplistic. They then proceed to over- simplify the benefits of SSRIs and paint a rather romanticized picture of the “deep healing” that can be achieved through Western psychotherapy. The authors also stereotype a “Bud- dhist” response to mental illness: “More meditation!” My own experience of Buddhist teachers’ advice on psycho- logical difficulty has been completely different. I remember my first teacher, Kyudo Roshi, refusing to give advice on what students thought were practice issues, but to him were plainly matters of psychology (“I don’t know! I’m not a psychologist!”). I think it is important to remember that Western psychology and Buddhism are different disciplines, with different goals and methods. It’s my experience that they can definitely be complemen- tary. But I don’t think anyone would claim that you can achieve enlightenment through psychotherapy or psychiatry,